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History of the NHL

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The 1921-22 Toronto St. Pats

In this section, we provide NHL background on several important areas of the league’s history. If you’d like to sharpen your knowledge of the NHL’s expansion, structure, organizational changes and other key issues, you’ve come to the right place. Articles in this NHL background section of the Resource Center include:

  • Conferences and divisions. The NHL started modestly in 1917 with a handful of teams and no conferences or divisions. With expansion came complexity, and over the years the league has expanded and reshuffled conference and division alignment. To make matters more confusing, the NHL has changed not only the structure, but the names of its divisions and conferences. This article takes you through the changes step by step.
  • Expansion team history. Did you know the Original Six are not the first six teams that played in the NHL? It was expansion in 1967 that gave birth to that phrase. After the big expansion of 1967, the NHL has continued to add teams, and now has a total of 31 clubs with one in the pipeline. This article provides a team-by-team chronology of NHL expansion. Besides detailing the creation of expansion teams, we also trace these teams’ movements from city to city, a common situation in the NHL.
  • The expansion of 1967. The NHL lumbered for decades with the six teams known now as the Original Six. In 1967, the league doubled its size with the biggest single-season expansion in the history of major professional sports. As aggressive as the 1967 expansion was, the impetus behind it was largely defensive, undertaken to obtain television contracts and fend off competition from the Western Hockey League (WHL). Thanks to this expansion, the NHL established itself as a league from coast to coast across North America, making it a true continental sport for the first time. Read how this major landmark in NHL history came about and how it went down.
  • Founding of the NHL. When the NHL came into being in 1917, the founders did not envision that their brainchild would be the dominant force in North American professional hockey for the next century (and counting). Instead, the NHL came into existence as a stopgap measure to rid an old league of a problem owner. Learn about this strange story of the NHL’s founding in this article.
  • Player safety in the NHL. NHL hockey is a violent sport where injuries can be severe. Among the most serious and concerning injuries are concussions and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which have severe consequences for the health of players long after their careers are over. This article lays out the concussion problem in the NHL and the league’s response.
  • The WHA-NHL merger. One of the biggest moments in NHL history was its merger with the WHA (World Hockey Association) in 1979. The merger locked in the NHL as the dominant league, increased player salaries, and made all sorts of positive contributions to professional hockey in Canada and the U.S. This article discusses the history and impact of the WHA.
  • Women in the NHL. If you think women haven’t made a big contribution to the NHL, read this article. The fact is, women have had an impact on the league on and off the ice, virtually from the league’s inception. For instance, without women, there wouldn’t be the Lady Byng Trophy, the Chicago Blackhawks might have a mediocre logo instead of an icon, and the Detroit Red Wings may have hauled in one or two fewer Stanley Cup championships. Women have also done some spectacular things on the ice competing against men, including one performance that made big news in the recent past.

(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons)